Ministry of Social Development accused of breaching abuse claimants' privacy

by Phil Pennington / 06 September, 2017

Help us find and write the stories Kiwis need to read

MSD is likely to face a complaint to the Privacy Commissioner. Photo / Rebekah Parsons-King

The Ministry of Social Development is being accused of a mass breach of privacy after it sent details to police about children abused in state care, despite some victims saying they didn't want a criminal prosecution.

Three complainants who say they were abused while in state care are about to lodge a complaint with the Privacy Commissioner.

The complainants' lawyer, Amanda Hill of Wellington firm Cooper Legal, said it was likely hundreds of other cases had also been passed on to police.

"We're saying that it's wrong that a government department can initiate a mass disclosure of sensitive information to the police without consent of the plaintiffs - that's a breach of privacy."

The ministry signed a protocol with police in May 2016 about sharing information. The ministry says it is obliged to share the allegations with the police as part of the protocol, aimed at protecting people from crime.

But Ms Hill said she only learned the departments were sharing information in the last two months, after the ministry approached the firm asking for more information about three prison inmates - and abuse complainants - to pass on to police.

"They [the inmates] were very clear that they did not want to speak to the police.

"That's their decision and their decision alone to make.

"And they're really concerned that a major government department doesn't have the basic respect to ask them first."

Ms Hill said state care abuse allegations in general came from very vulnerable people, and many from prisoners who feared being labelled as "narcs" if it became known they'd been talking to the police, even if it was about a private matter.

She said she had seen ministry advice that it had passed 354 state abuse allegations on to the police.

Many allegations have sat with the ministry for years - in one of the three cases being taken to the Privacy Commission, the claims are a decade old, she said.

"This is a mass disclosure of information, not a specific disclosure that has been triggered by specific concerns.

"The disclosure comes years after some of the information will have been received by the ministry - so there is clearly no urgency... [and] the ministry have other means of investigating these allegations - it is likely it still employs some of the people described by our clients."

The ministry issued a brief statement referring RNZ to its website, which says: "The ministry has an obligation to protect children and vulnerable members of the community from criminal behaviour.

"As part of fulfilling this obligation and in supporting the government's desire to hold criminal offenders accountable for their actions, the ministry reports allegations of abuse to the New Zealand Police ... The police will then decide if they will carry out an investigation of any alleged criminal offending."

The ministry did not confirm how many historical cases have been referred to police.

It said that a related matter was before the courts, so it would not make further comment.

This article was originally published by RNZ.

Latest

How to know if you have coeliac disease
92118 2018-06-18 00:00:00Z Health

How to know if you have coeliac disease

by The Listener

Coeliac NZ suggests you consider getting tested if you have some or all of the following symptoms of coeliac disease.

Read more
For coeliac disease sufferers, there's hope of treatment on the horizon
92091 2018-06-18 00:00:00Z Nutrition

For coeliac disease sufferers, there's hope of tre…

by Nicky Pellegrino

As many as 100,000 New Zealanders, many of them undiagnosed, are afflicted by coeliac disease.

Read more
As Jacinda Ardern takes her baby exit - the show goes on
92466 2018-06-17 00:00:00Z Politics

As Jacinda Ardern takes her baby exit - the show g…

by Graham Adams

The PM can happily go off on maternity leave knowing there is a cast of colourful and capable people to fill the gap — most notably Winston Peters.

Read more
The Spanish flu pandemic killed more than WWI. Are we prepared for the next?
92222 2018-06-17 00:00:00Z Health

The Spanish flu pandemic killed more than WWI. Are…

by Sally Blundell

This year marks a century since a flu pandemic killed 9000 NZers. Three more such plagues have swept the world since then – and another is inevitable.

Read more
How to stay safe from the flu this winter
92238 2018-06-17 00:00:00Z Health

How to stay safe from the flu this winter

by Sally Blundell

According to research, soap and water are more effective at removing the flu virus than alcohol-based hand-rubs.

Read more
How Las Vegas gets people coming back for more
86454 2018-06-17 00:00:00Z Travel

How Las Vegas gets people coming back for more

by Sharon Stephenson

Sharon Stephenson swore once was enough, but here she is, back in Sin City.

Read more
How to understand New Zealand's political tribes
92212 2018-06-16 00:00:00Z Social issues

How to understand New Zealand's political tribes

by Jane Clifton

In New Zealand politics, small groups often exert more influence than large tribes.

Read more
Revealing Earth's secrets: How JOIDES deep earth sampling missions help us all
92306 2018-06-16 00:00:00Z Science

Revealing Earth's secrets: How JOIDES deep earth s…

by Jenny Nicholls

When an odd-looking ship came to NZ in May, few would've known it was a symbol of one of the world’s oldest and most successful scientific collabs.

Read more